Rarely have the
best teams in each league been more obvious heading into the postseason than
they are this week--and not in a half century have both those favorites been
from New York. Whether or not Bud Selig, Fox TV executives, fans in the
Heartland and John Rocker want to hear it, the World Series figures to be like
a grotesquely thick pastrami on rye: pure New York and difficult for an
out-of-towner to stomach. � At week's end the Mets and the Yankees were at the
top their leagues in wins; first in the NL and second in the AL, respectively,
in run differential; and--this does not go unnoticed in a year in which a new
revenue-sharing system is being negotiated--had their leagues' largest
payrolls. Says one National League general manager of the teams' financial
advantages, "It's fantasy baseball. It's a joke."
In 2000, when the
Yankees and the Mets met in the first Subway Series since the Bronx Bombers
beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956, the upstart, wild-card Mets bowed in five
games. The rest of the country largely ignored the Series; TV ratings fell
22.5% from the Yankees-Braves Fall Classic of the previous season. Only the
Giants-Angels series in '02 and the White Sox' sweep of the Astros last year
have drawn smaller audiences.
though, have a distinctly different look from their 2000 forebears. With
Yankees-like investments in free agents over the last several winters (pitchers
Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez and Billy Wagner, and centerfielder Carlos
Beltran), they blew unchallenged through a weak league. "I don't think any
team other than the Mets can knock off the Yankees," the NL G.M. says.
"I know it's baseball and anything can happen, but put it this way: It's
New York's World Series to lose."
Says an AL G.M.,
"The Mets should come out of the NL, but that league is playing for the
right to lose the World Series. I don't see enough dominant starting pitching
out there for anybody to shut down the Yankees."
unrelenting combination of patience and power on offense, the Yankees are so
deep that manager Joe Torre will not pinch-hit for any of his nine regulars.
That puts his lineup in a class with that of Cincinnati's 1976 Big Red Machine,
which swept the Yankees in the World Series without platooning or pinch-hitting
for a nonpitcher, and that of the '53 Dodgers, who lost the Fall Classic in six
to the Yankees without replacing any of its eight position players for
frontline, experienced pitching to thwart the Yankees? The staffs of their
likely AL obstacles--the Tigers, Twins and A's--are 4--7 combined in playoff
starts, with A's lefty Barry Zito accounting for three of those wins. Moreover,
the closers for those clubs have a total of one save and 5 2/3 postseason
innings. "If we play our game, I'll take our chances," Yankees G.M.
Brian Cashman says. "We have a very talented and a very motivated team
that's a lot more balanced than the last few we've taken into the postseason.
We run the bases better, play better defense and find [more] ways to
Mets figure to dominate their half of the bracket. Their most glaring flaw is a
vulnerability to lefthanders. But if Philadelphia doesn't seize the wild card,
the Mets would face no lefty closers and only one southpaw starter: 43-year-old
David Wells of the Padres.
For all that,
fans west of the Hudson River shouldn't tune out yet. The three-round
postseason format, which debuted in 1995, introduces so much unpredictability
that half of the last 12 World Series teams didn't even win their own
divisions. And of the last six Series champions, three did not finish in the
top third of their league in run differential. Dismayed at the idea of a Subway
Series? Here are some limbs you might go out on.
The Yankees' lineup is at once arguably the most menacing in baseball history
and overrated--at least when it comes to October baseball. In the book Baseball
Between the Numbers, Baseball Prospectus studied every playoff team from 1972
through 2005 and concluded, "There is literally no relationship between
regular-season offense and postseason success." It found that the three
most important postseason factors are a team's ability to strike out batters,
its defense and its closer (chart, left). In other words, during the postseason
the prevention of runs matters more than the accumulation of runs. The Yankees'
chances, therefore, hinge less on their lineup than on the health of their
closer, Rivera, who missed most of September with forearm soreness. Torre loves
to deploy him in the eighth inning during the postseason, but he can't do that
if Rivera hasn't fully recovered.
The Twins' ace is the best starting pitcher in the postseason, and he'll go
twice in a five-game, first-round series. Santana can shut down any offense,
leaving the less imposing trio of Carlos Silva, Boof Bonser and Matt Garza to
win one of the other three games. Silva and Bonser, however, have pitched well
in September, and with their hard-throwing, shutdown bullpen, the Twins rate as
a better postseason pick than the Yankees when the Baseball Prospectus formula